India’s former top shrink: Homosexuality is “unnatural,” can be cured

I suppose this is a bad news / good news post concerning gay rights in India, and attitudes in that country towards gay people.

Recently gays and lesbians in India suffered a huge setback when a Division Bench ruling of India’s Supreme Court re-criminalized homosexuality after four years of it having been legal to be gay.

In a front-page article on 21 January (Tuesday) in the Times of India, former president of the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS), Dr. Indira Sharma, was questioned about her remarks three days earlier at a meeting of the IPS in which she referred to homosexuality as “unnatural.”

Indira Sharma

Indira Sharma

At the meeting, Sharma also said that those who were uncomfortable with their sexual orientation should seek psychiatric treatment, presumably to be cured of same-sex desires.

This, despite all of the independent and unbiased scientific — and psychiatric — research indicating that sexual orientation cannot be cured psychiatrically, psychologically, or by any other means. And moreover, that such attempts to “cure” someone of being gay nearly always does more harm than good.

Indeed, all of the legitimate, peer-reviewed research would indicate that a person who is conflicted with their sexual orientation is better served by helping with acceptance, rather than rejection and repression of same-sex attractions.

Basically, Dr. Sharma’s message is that gay people should be ashamed to be gay, and should avoid bothering anybody by staying deep in the closet.

In the Times of India interview, Sharma is quoted as saying, “The manner in which homosexuals have brought talk of sex to the roads makes people uncomfortable. It’s unnatural.”

The article went on:

She explained to the Times of India, “There are some who are comfortable [with their orientation], but there are many who are not. The latter should realize they can get help (from psychiatrists). Some of them may even be able to change their orientation.”

The paper also summarized Sharma as adding that “those comfortable with their orientation should be made aware that their behaviour was causing a lot of uneasiness in society.”

No stranger to controversy, and willing to express notions even the rather conservative Indian society finds…well, odd and unhelpful, at the last IPS meeting in January 2013, Dr. Sharma sparked additional controversy by suggesting that violence against women could be curbed by encouraging young men to marry as early as possible.

Sharma (…) had claimed early marriage “preferably in early 20s or as soon as the boy gets employed” could curb violence against women. Early marriages were recommended so that “sexual needs are satisfied in an appropriate manner.”

Yeah, right… I find myself feeling more and more sorry for Dr. Sharma’s patients, assuming she’s ever actually treated real human beings. (Her bio lists her as an academic at Banaras Hindu University.)

Fortunately, the Times of India, although it didn’t go terribly far in refuting Dr. Sharma’s contrary-to-science opinions, did at least quote Dr. Harish Shetty as saying, “Same-sex orientation needs to be accepted as normal. Sexual orientation has different dimensions and should be tackled compassionately. This will help many come out of the closet. Mental health professionals need to accept the differences and bring down distress.”

Now then, I did promise this was a bad news / good news post. Dr. Sharma’s ignorance and homophobia were the bad news.

The good news is twofold. First of all, despite having been president of the IPS, her views clearly do not represent the views of the entire Indian psychiatric discipline. In 2009, the IPS had written open letters to a number of newspapers in support of the court ruling which decriminalized Section 377 (India’s ban on homosexuality).

Secondly, Dr. Sharma gave that speech over the weekend at the IPS meeting as that organization’s outgoing president. Here’s hoping she’s replaced by someone more enlightened and less irrationally bigoted against LGBT people. And with an education in human sexuality, and psychiatry, more recent than the 19th century.

Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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